Where Does Pelosi Play? The Fine Art of Surrogate Campaigning
House members who want to help their party in the final stretch of campaign season have options. They can offer endorsements. Make calls. Write checks.
But sometimes, nothing says “I care” like getting on a plane and flying across the country to stand alongside a colleague.
In the month before Election Day, members not fighting for their political lives are expected to be team players — and one way to do that is by traveling to different congressional districts as campaign “surrogates.”
It’s not as simple as just showing up: Being a good surrogate is an art, and considerable thought, time and effort go into deciding who should go where, and when, and in what capacity.
Each member has his or her own edge.
Budget Chairman and 2012 vice presidential nominee Paul D. Ryan, R-Wis., will draw a crowd, while Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., can bring in buckets of money (she’s raised more than $400 million for Democrats since 2002). Others can open doors that might otherwise be closed, or help a vulnerable member shore up support among a flagging constituency.
And every ambitious lawmaker on Capitol Hill knows that stumping for a fellow member or potential colleague can pay off down the road.
If Andrew Romanoff tops GOP Rep. Mike Coffman in Colorado’s redrawn 6th District, for example, the Democratic challenger isn’t likely to forget it was House Democratic Caucus Chairman Xavier Becerra of California who traveled there to help drum up Latino votes.
Here’s a rundown on who is being sent to campaign where, and why, in the final days of the 2014 election cycle.
Who’s helping Democrats get out the black vote in close Senate races? Black House members. There are 43 lawmakers in the Congressional Black Caucus — all of them Democrats and all but one members of the House. Still, the lawmakers are almost singularly focused this month on campaigning for candidates in the upper chamber, where the current Democratic majority is in real peril. The CBC is targeting black churches in particular, with members giving tips to pastors on how to deliver sermons that will inspire African-American congregants to go to the polls on Nov. 4. Assistant Minority Leader James E. Clyburn of South Carolina is often dispatched to serve as a “bridge” between white candidates and black church congregants; civil rights icon and longtime Rep. John Lewis, D-Ga., is an especially active and sought-after campaigner, according to the Democratic Senatorial Campaign Committee.
Who’s being sent to rescue embattled Rep. Steve Southerland II, R-Fla.? The cavalry. After news broke that he had held a “men’s only” fundraising dinner earlier this year, Southerland needs all the help he can get convincing women that he’ll represent them well on Capitol Hill, especially since he’s in a tight race against a female challenger. So at a recent “Women for Southerland” rally, Republican Reps. Martha Roby of Alabama and Cynthia M. Lummis of Wyoming traveled big distances to talk up their colleague. And on a recent weekend, new House Majority Whip Steve Scalise of Louisiana took a trip there as well.
Who else is getting out the women’s vote for Republicans? Rep. Cathy McMorris Rodgers and Ann Wagner. McMorris Rodgers, a Washington Republican and chairwoman of the GOP Conference, is a major draw for campaigns looking to push back on the Democrats’ “War on Women” narrative, sources say, citing recent visits to, among other places, Texas, California, Ohio, West Virginia, Colorado, Kentucky, Florida and Arizona. Voters might also recognize McMorris Rodgers from her nationally televised State of the Union response earlier this year.
Rep. Wagner of Missouri, a freshman with fundraising prowess who was recently named a chief deputy whip, has also been busy this cycle, visiting districts where male colleagues are facing female challengers and campaigning alongside women House Republican candidates, too.
Who’s drawing in women for the Democrats? Nancy Pelosi and Debbie Wasserman Schultz. There are few paths to victory for Democrats this fall unless they can motivate women to head to the polls. The appeal of both Pelosi and Wasserman Schultz extends beyond gender, but they remain the highest-profile women in the House Democratic Caucus. Pelosi, the minority leader and first female speaker, has held at least 30 forums with candidates centered on the party’s economic agenda for women, and plans to headline events this month with President Barack Obama, Vice President Joseph R. Biden Jr., and likely 2016 presidential candidate Hillary Rodham Clinton.
In her capacity as chairwoman of the Democratic National Committee, Wasserman Schultz of Florida has maintained a busy travel schedule, hosting fundraisers and speaking at roundtables, with visits to Illinois, Massachusetts, Connecticut and her home state slated for the final weeks of midterm campaigning.
Also to watch on this front:
Rep. Donna Edwards, D-Md., the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee’s recruitment chair who hopes to run the whole operation next cycle, and Rep. Jan Schakowsky, D-Ill., a rank-and-file lawmaker with lots of respect within the caucus and abundant energy on the stump.
Who do vulnerable, moderate House Democrats want campaigning for them? Minority Whip Steny H. Hoyer. Not everybody wants Pelosi, Wasserman Shultz and other national Democratic figures at their campaign events, especially not the dozens of “front-line” members who represent districts hostile to the national party. For those members, there’s the more moderate Hoyer, D-Md. Democrats say Hoyer’s profile is low enough that he has yet to become a polarizing figure, but high enough to impress upon locals the national importance of the race at hand. This month he’ll travel for many vulnerable incumbents battling to keep their seats, including Arizona Reps. Krysten Sinema and Ann Kirkpatrick, Julia Brownley of California and Ann McLane Kuster of New Hampshire.
Where is Speaker John A. Boehner being dispatched? Pretty much anywhere that wants him. Boehner also can’t travel everywhere — certainly not to the five districts where GOP candidates have already promised not to support the Ohioan for another term as speaker. But other than that, a Republican involved in surrogate travel and outreach said the top GOP lawmaker in Washington is the party’s biggest congressional ask this cycle, with Boehner’s political office adding that he’s hosted or headlined at least 150 candidate and member events so far in districts across the country.
Other than Boehner, who’s the most sought-after House Republican? Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy. Even before the lawmaker was elevated from whip to leader, campaigns have wanted McCarthy on the trail to talk up incumbents and candidates with his laid-back California charm. In interviews with vulnerable Republicans incumbents and challengers, McCarthy’s name is nearly always the most requested surrogate. By Nov. 4, he will have traveled to more than 100 districts, and at one point in October he visited three western states in under 24 hours.
What about Reps. Greg Walden, R-Ore., and Steve Israel, D-N.Y., the chairmen of the National Republican Campaign Committee and the Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee? As the faces of their parties’ respective campaign and fundraising arms, they’re going everywhere between now and Election Day. On Nov. 5, Walden – all but certain to take on another term — will start making calls to get ready for the 2016 cycle. Israel will probably take a much-needed nap — unless he gets offered a third term in the gig and decides to accept.
Abby Livingston contributed to this report.